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Lifelines: Celebrating a Legacy

C. Saphir

Within minutes, Hatzolah whisked him off to the hospital, but by the time he got there, it was too late

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

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Photo:Shutterstock

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hat’s the worst thing in the world that can happen to someone? As a teenager, I asked myself this deep, philosophical question, and I thought the answer was obvious: losing a parent.

I had no reason to think it would happen to me. My parents were both healthy and vibrant, and with ten energetic children to care for, they had busy, full lives. My father was a businessman, my mother a full-time homemaker.

Despite my father’s busy work and learning schedule, he was a very involved husband and father, and did everything he could to make my mother’s life easier. When I was a kid, some 25 years ago, the first cellular phones came out on the market. At that point, they were a luxury item and very expensive. Only the really fancy people had them — and we weren’t fancy people, by any stretch. But the day after my father heard my mother say how nice it would be not to have to search for a payphone to call home when she was out, he went out and bought my mother a big, clunky cell phone.

On Shabbos morning, he would daven k’vasikin, and then come home and watch the kids so that my mother could sleep late. If he came home from work early during the week, he would urge my mother to go take a nap, and he would cook supper. 

When I was 12, my four-year-old cousin became very sick, and after an extended hospitalization, he passed away. I remember seeing medical bills in my cousin’s name on my father’s desk, with personal checks written on my father’s account. My uncle and aunt, who had lost their child, had a lot more money than my father did, but he didn’t want them to have to go through the agony of dealing with bills after the petirah. I never heard him say anything about this, I just figured out what had happened. 

Photo: Shutterstock

My father didn’t talk much about himself. He didn’t tell us, for instance, why he wouldn’t eat bread the day after Pesach. It was only when I got a little older that I realized that he was trying to work on his middos by making himself wait an extra day to eat chometz.

I was 16 when my oldest brother got engaged. Money was tight in advance of the wedding, and when my father told my mother to buy herself a new sheitel, she demurred, saying it was too expensive. So my father quietly went and gave money to his mother, with the request that she tell my mother that she wanted to buy her a new sheitel — on condition that my mother would never know who had paid for it. (My grandmother told me about this years later.)

My father had an issue with high blood sugar, and from the time I was a teenager, he was on a low-sugar diet. One morning, I baked cinnamon Danishes, and I gave him one, even though I knew he wasn’t supposed to eat things like that. He ate it, probably just to make me feel good.

About half an hour later, as he was preparing to leave the house, he clutched his chest and collapsed on the floor. Within minutes, Hatzolah whisked him off to the hospital, but by the time he got there, it was too late.

They said it was a heart attack. I knew it was the cinnamon Danish.

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